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Banning Religious Symbols and Clothes

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In a move that has sparked protest across France, the French government in February passed a law banning public school students from wearing Jewish skullcaps, large Christian crosses, Sikh turbans and, most controversially, Muslim headscarves.

The 276-20 vote in the French Senate forbids religious apparel that shows a student’s religious affiliation.

Furthermore the legislation also includes a lengthy preamble that demands that public schools guarantee total equality, including "coeducation of all teachings, particularly in sports and physical education." Schools, it said, are "the best tool for planting the roots of the republican idea. "The preamble and the law make clear that religious beliefs can not be used as an excuse to avoid gym or biology classes, and that questioning the veracity of the Holocaust would not be tolerated.

Mr. Ferry also said the law "will keep classrooms from being divided up into militant religious communities ( quoted according to the New York Times, February 11, 2004)

The French President, Mr. Chirac, a strong supporter of the law justified the French move by pointing out:

“School is a republican sanctuary that we must defend in order to preserve equality during the acquisition of values and knowledge in girls and boys; in order to protect our children; so that our youth is not exposed to the bad winds that divide, separate and bring us into conflict with one another.” (Jacques Chirac: School must be a secular sanctuary" From a speech by the French President on the banning of Islamic headscarves in Schools; The Independent, 18 December 2003 )

One of the main aims of education according to him is to unite the French behind “the values that have constituted and that still constitute France. It is in this way that we will remain a confident, assured and cohesive nation.” )

( see above)

The situation in Germany is a bit more difficult and at first sight slightly confusing:

Headscarves are seen with increasing frequency on women in Germany's major cities, and they have become an expression of identity as well as of religious devotion. Muslim officials say that many more women in Germany wear the headscarf now than they did 10 years ago. The reasons for the headgear are no longer only religious; for some, the scarves have evolved as an emblem of confidence and identity for Muslim women.

Fereshta Ludin, a 31-year-old Afghanistan native was banned from taking up post to teach English and German teacher in primary and secondary schools in 1998, because she insisted on wearing her headscarf, or hijab as it is known in Arabic, in the classroom for religious reasons. The board of education in the state of Baden Wuerttemberg argued at the time that her headscarf would violate the state’s neutrality on religion.

Since then Ludin, who became a German citizen in 1995, has seen her case move through a string of German courts -- from the municipal level all the way to Germany's highest court.

In January, the constitutional court stressed in its ruling that though Germany’s constitutional law did not explicitly forbid the wearing of headscarves in the classroom in state-run schools in the first place, the possibility remained for states to legally enact such a ban. The court stressed that the German state’s neutrality on religion shouldn’t be understood as a strict separation of church and state. Thus, if federal states didn’t want to employ teachers wearing a headscarf, they would first need to create unambiguous laws that expressly forbid religious symbols in the classroom, the court said. In Ludin’s case, such a legal ban wasn’t in place in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, it noted.

Ms. Ludin and the Muslim communities in Germany welcomed the ruling and saw it as a victory, but a string of German states have now issued statements saying they plan to introduce legislation that would ban Muslim teachers (teachers only, the students are and will be allowed to wear the hijab)from wearing the headscarf in the future in state-run schools and thus preserve the state’s neutral stance on religion. The new laws would only apply to Muslim dresses and symbols Christian and/or Jewish dresses or symbols would still be allowed in state-schools.

But there are also opposing views: famous women formed a group, which sees itself working independently of political and religious considerations, which signed an "appeal against a headscarf law." Initiated by Federal Commissioner for Integration and Foreigners, Marieluise Beck, the protest initiative includes politicians from across the party spectrum, scientists and leaders from the church and media. Former parliamentary president, Rita Suessmuth (a member of the CDU= Christian Democratic Union), minister for Consumer Affairs and Agriculture Renate Kuenast (The Greens), Federal Commissioner for Human Rights Claudia Roth and popular actresses Katja Riemann and Renan Demirkan have all lent the petition their support. The group resists equating Muslim women wearing headscarves with fundamentalism. Though they admit that the headscarf can be a visible instrument used by Islamic fundamentalists to portray the repression of women, it insists that not all women wearing the headscarf are religious fanatics. The protestors emphasise that many Muslim women don’t view emancipation and the headscarf as contradictory.

Ms. Ludin has always stressed that she wears the hijab out of her own will and that it is part of her religious and ethnic identity which she wants to keep even though she has become a German citizen.

In contrast to Mr. Chirac the German President, Mr. Rau, strongly opposes forbidding Muslim teachers to wear a hijab.

In different speeches he demanded that Islamic headscarves receive equal treatment with symbols of other faiths such as Christianity or Judaism.

"State schools must respect each and everyone, whether Christian or pagan, agnostic, Muslim or Jew," Rau said on television. If the headscarf is an expression of religious faith, a dress with a missionary character, then that should apply equally to a monk's habit or a crucifix." (the crucifix still can be found in Bavarian state-schools; the right to display it is encoded in Bavarian law) In addition to religious education for Catholics and Protestants in German state-schools Rau expects state-schools to offer religious education for Muslims, which he sees as a palliative against students’ being indoctrinated and manipulated. If someone wants to teach in a German state-school he/she has to swear an oath of loyalty to the German constitution thus accepting it and its principles especially the Human Rights and the democratic system of German.

I think the first round of the debate should concentrate on the situation and different positions mentioned above.

I personally think that the debate about the veil is only one aspect of a larger issue, namely integration of immigrants and/or ethnic minorities.

A second round could refer to the following questions:

- how do we define “ integration”

- would we prefer “ assimilation”?

- how much multiculturalism, ethnic and religious diversity are we/our societies willing to or able to accept without losing its own identity

- what do we expect from the immigrants/ethnic minorities living in our midst?

Mr. Chirac does not mince words and has a very clear definition of what he expects from those who want to be French:

“Everyone must be proud of France, our country. Everyone must feel a guardian of her heritage. Everyone must feel responsible for her future. Let us transform today's problems into tomorrow's assets by resolutely pursuing the unity of the French people. By confirming our commitment to an open and generous secularism such as we have been able to create year after year.

By improving equality of opportunity, the spirit of tolerance and solidarity.

By fighting resolutely for the rights of women.

By uniting behind the values that have constituted and that still constitute France.” (see above)

I think the “musts” of the German President sound different: he expects every immigrant and/or member of an ethnic minority to learn the German language, to accept and follow the Basic law- our constitution – to accept the rule of law and the German laws and legal system.

Edited by John Simkin
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The idea of banning religious symbols in British schools is an alien concept. The established church has always played a dominant role in our education system. During the 19th century the government nonconformists religious groups were given the freedom to establish their own schools. When immigrants arrived in large numbers after the Second World War, Muslims also demanded the same rights. The government was in no position to refuse and so we have quite a few Muslim schools in our inner-cities.

It is now becoming clear that these schools are preventing immigrants from fully integrating into our society. It is interesting to compare for example, what has happened to immigrants from the West Indies and Africa. They never demanded their own schools. Their children went to the local school and it was not long before they integrated into the community. Many have excelled in their chosen profession areas and are now seen as stars and role models. It is difficult for people to cheer on their heroes on the sports field and in the theatre and to hold deep racist views.

In Britain today it is those who have refused to integrate that suffer the most from racial prejudice. This is reinforced by stories of Muslim girls being murdered by family members for refusing to marry their selected partner. Despite attempts by the Muslim community to isolate themselves from “western values” some of their young women are resisting this process and are demanding the same freedoms as their white friends have. This has shocked Muslim parents and has resulted in them seeking to isolate their families even more so that their daughters do not have white friends. One way is to make sure they go to Muslim schools.

Although I do not agree with the decision of the French government, I do understand why they have made it. As the Americans discovered in the 19th century, it is vitally important for immigrants to integrate with the host population.

For example, see details of Hull House Project established in Chicago in 1889. Jane Addams was right about most things. She was definitely right to do what she could to integrate immigrants into American society. It is a lesson that Europe also has to learn.


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I agree that integration is a must, but the question is how we define integration and how we want to bring it about. I think banning teachers because they wear a headscarf is a way to hamper integration because it forces these women out of our state-schoolsystem and it shows them that we do not accept them. Including Muslim teachers and offering Muslim students religious education in state schools the curriculum and the way the subject is taught controlled and monitored by boards of education as Rau suggests seems worth trying.

The largest ethnic minority in Germany still are the people from Turkey - a completely secular state which by the way does not allow the headscarf in schools, businesses, offices etc. The more come, the faster the "ghettos" like Berlin-Kreuzberg grow the greater the number of problems with extremely conservative members of the predominantly Mulsim community who deny especially their girls and women the Human Rights e.g. by sending them back to Turkey, forcing them into marriages, not allowing them to go on class trips etc. One way of addressing this problem might be integrated housing projects; close cooperation between schools and the Muslim community - actually Muslim teachers in our schools would be of great help here.

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I don't think for a second that banning the wearing of religious symbols or items of dress is the answer. I would be extremely offended if I was forbidden to wear a crucifix for example. The answer as far as I'm concerned is to promote integration through teaching about the different ethnic groups and cultures that make up our society. Legislation such as that in France simply sweeps major issues under the carpet. That strikes me as being a quite dangerous thing to do. It may stir up resentment amongst the groups who have been refused the right to display their faith publicly, leading to a radicalisation of views: from any number of ethnic or religious groups, including elements of the the indigenous population.

There are fairly major issues surrounding the integration of different ethnic groups into society in parts of the United Kingdom, its certainly a major issue in Bradford, the city I live and work in. The following is from a government review into integration in the city:

Bradford District is a great place with fabulous people from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures.

However all is not well.

At a time when relationships between communities should be improving, we are increasingly becoming divided. There are signs that we are fragmenting along racial, cultural and faith lines. Rather than an environment where people are respectful and show tolerance for difference, attitudes are hardening and intolerance is growing.

This seems to be remarkably similar to the situation described by French politicians. I'd rather see a proactive, positive approach to tackling the problem than a reactionary and repressive approach such as that being pursued in some places.

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It seems a lot of people ignore that the law in France against display of religious symbols in any public institutions exists since 1905!!! The law is so strict that it explicitely says that the only exceptions are cemetaries (as French cemetaries are public-owned, without this it would be forbidden to put a cross on a grave) and in museums.

The reason of the new law is that beginning in the 1970s, muslim students have tried to flout a law that was accepted as one of the basis of the state. Faced by this defiance teachers didn't know what to do. The Conseil constitutionnel didn't help when in 1989 it said that the decisions should be the teachers'...

What the new law do is to reaffirm one of the principles of the French Republic, not a minute too soon!

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By the way:

teachers in French public schools have been forbidden to wear any religious symbols (like a crucifix) since 1905. This was never contested and never challenged by anyone.

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I agree that integration is a must, but the question is how we define integration and how we want to bring it about.

This may be a slightly pedantic point, but perhaps a useful one. Shouldn't we be striving for inclusion rather than integration, there is a subtle difference. i.e. integration can imply, "making them more like us (the majority)" while inclusion is more about embracing difference and maing it a valuable part of our school culture.

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Again, I am not aware of the goal in the UK but the goal in France is integration, NOT inclusion.

The French Republic accepts all citizens as equal as French citizens but doesn't acknowledges any appartenance to any other group, religious or etnic of its citizens (what is called communautarisme). This is also the hypothesis behind immigration since at least the nineteenth century...

Edited by Alma
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I am now understanding why you have so many problems in schools if that is the level of teaching...

I am considering voting for jean Marie Le pen... One of the reason is that for the first time in 100 years, the French policy of assimilation which has worked for all groups since the neneteenth century hasn't worked for one group, Arabs from the Maghreb.

As like all French I am for the policy of assimilation, and I am opposed to communautarisme, I was trying to explain what is the policy in France for more than a century.

All you can do is personnal attacks, not reflections on the subject.

Says something about your endoctrinating... sorry teaching skills!

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Oh yes, for those really interested in the subbject, there is a very nice book published by a collectif of teachers, Les territoires perdus de la République, which has been the main influence on Chirac for both the new law and the "carnets républicains" which are now given in each school to say how to deal with "communautarisme"...

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All you can do is personnal attacks, not reflections on the subject.

Says something about your endoctrinating... sorry teaching skills!

How silly!

I am merely trying to get you to consider the consistency of what you say across the board. Your vocal support for the anti semite Le Pen elsewhere does not sit easily with your glib little comments on immigration in this thread.

The quality of your writing and your argument suggests to me that you are not a teacher or an educator.

If I am wrong please remember to sign in at Biographical details in the next two hours to disabuse me of this notion and accept my apologies in advance.

Remember also that the sharing of accounts on this board is not allowed and will be monitored.

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True, all those who come and want to live in Germany are expected to and must accept the German laws and the Basic Law.

What the immigrants and the ethnic and religious minorities can expect and what they can justly and legally claim is that the Human Rights and the guarantees they give and promise are valid for them as well and that they can enjoy these rights in the same way a German citizen can. Even though this is not explicitly said in one of the articles of our constitution, the right of being different is inherent in most of them. To quote only some:

Article 1 [Human Dignity]

(1) Human dignity is inviolable. To respect and protect it is the duty of all state authority.

(2) The German People therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every human community, of peace, and of justice in the world. ...

Article 2 [Liberty]

(1) Everyone has the right to free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or against morality...."

I think the first step is to listen carefully- to both sides, to simply acknowledge the grievances and fears of both sides - non-immigrants, majorities and immigrants, ethnic minorities.

Those who planted the bombs in the Madrid trains are criminals and they do not represent Islam and/or the Muslims. Religion is only a pretext as demanding more autonomy for the Basque country has been a pretext for the ETA to kill.

One of the lessons of Madrid for me is that a dialogue between Muslims, immigrants and us, i.e. Christians, atheists, Germans, French,... is necessary worldwide to find ways of how to cut off terrorists of all sorts from their supply of volunteers and cover.

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The real problem is that a lot of muslims do not acknowledge the laws of the French Republic...

case in point: religious symbols in public schools have been banned since 1905... This has been reaffirmed again and again in the courts, but still they want to wear the hijab...

In some places, they have asked for separate hours at municipal (public) swimming pools for men and women, this again goes against the 1905 law...

Now I agree the 1905 law mentions catholics, protestants and jews... There were no muslim in France at the time... But it treats all religions equally.

As to being given rights: I am very wary of a constitution giving any economic rights... The equality that should be guaranteed is equality of opportunities, not equality of results: so for instance you have the right to go to school, but if you fail, too bad for you... In this I prefer Tocqueville equality than some utopic equality of results...

Edited by Alma
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